Football – Ready to Stampede: 2015 Brick Memorial Preview
With multiple returning starters, including its quarterback and a physical and experienced group of two-way linemen, Brick Memorial is banking on continuing to be one of the Shore Conference’s most consistent teams and making a run at the program’s third state championship.
As a junior Tim Santiago wasn’t sure if he would see the field on offense, but just six quarters into the season he was thrust under center to guide the Mustangs’ flexbone attack. He helped Brick Memorial pull out a 16-14 win over Toms River North that day, cementing his role as the starter at the most important position in head coach Walt Currie’s offense.
Brick Memorial would win its next three games to move to 4-1 before finishing 6-4. Santiago concluded his season with 791 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns while also throwing for 496 yards and four touchdowns in eight games. Now with him back for another season, the Mustangs figure to have a dangerous offense with their biggest threat handling the ball on every play.
“When you have a guy that’s a returning starter at quarterback, especially in an offense that’s geared as much around the quarterback as any offense is, it’s huge,” Currie said.
“At the beginning of the last year I was iffy about (playing quarterback) but toward the end I felt like I was getting better each game,” Santiago said. “Now, I’m ready to go.”
Santiago also wrestled for the Mustangs as a sophomore but decided to fully concentrate on football heading into his senior year.
“I don’t have any distractions,” Santiago said. “I just focused on lifting and working on my passing - just getting better at football all year.”
Around Santiago in the backfield will be senior Billy Walsh at ‘A’ back along with promising sophomore Tony Thorpe. Senior Elie Lavarin returns as one of the starting slot backs with either junior Tay’von Ford or senior Nick Louhier as the other slot back.
Senior Mike Kraft, a returning starter, and senior Matt Cuppari will be the starting receivers. Junior Kishaun Carter and sophomore Grant McKelvey will also see time at wide receiver. Currie’s offense always aims to have big-play ability in the passing game, and they believe they have that this season. One of Santiago’s biggest objectives during the offseason was to become a better passer.
“Anytime you run the option you’re pretty much guaranteeing yourself one-on-one coverage down the field because everyone is in run support,” Currie said. “So when you have a kid like Kraft who can run and get vertical, and a kid like Cuppari who is a terrific athlete, you get those kids in space. With Tim, who is throwing the ball a lot better than he did last year, that can be difficult for teams to defend.”
In front of Santiago will be the heart and soul of Brick Memorial’s offense - its big and experienced offensive line. Four of the five are returning starters and the newcomer, junior right guard Justin Szuba, is 6-foot-7 and 260 pounds and moves like an athlete much smaller. Senior Mike Nobile is the center with senior Jimmy Tango as the left guard. The tackles are senior Chris Hayes on the left side and senior Anthony Nobile on the right side.
“We talk about winning ugly inside and that’s where it starts,” Currie said. “And with some of the athleticism we have on the outside we feel we have the ability to pop some big plays.”
The Mustangs will employ a 3-4 base defense under coordinator Pete Brennan. Like the offense, it will revolve around a physical and versatile front where all three starters return. Anthony Nobile is the defensive tackle, Hayes is the end and Mike Nobile is the nose guard.
“Those guys are so experienced and have such a knowledge of defensive football that they can play all three techniques,” Currie said. “They can line head-up and slant, line head-up and play two-gap or shade and play gap control. That makes it tough on an offensive lineman when he has to practice against all those looks. They are where our defense starts, the fact that those three can really get after it.”
“Our defensive line is sick and our offensive line is powerful,” Mike Nobile said. “We have a lot of strong guys, and we’re built around being blue collar. With those big guys up the middle we’re going to try to manhandle teams. We want to be among the best lines in the Shore Conference on both sides.”
Walsh started along the defensive line last season and will move to middle linebacker. The strongside linebacker will be either sophomore Justin Hans or junior Tyler Beck. The weakside linebacker will be Louhier, who was a starter last season, and the rover is senior Justin Bates, who saw some time last season.
The secondary will be comprised of Santiago and Lavarin at cornerback along with senior Victor Gomez at strong safety and Kraft at free safety. Santiago was a starter at safety last season and Kraft is a returning starter who made 62 tackles last season.
“It’s a football cliché that defense wins championships, but before I got here and while I’ve been here, we’ve had our best teams when we’ve had great defenses,” Currie said. “If we find a way to be a good defense we’ll be a very competitive football team.”
Cuppari will return as the team’s kicker and punter. He connected on 27 of 29 extra points last season, and although he kicked only one field goal it was a 40-yard bomb as time expired to beat Toms River North.
Through the dog days of summer and the drag of training camp, the Mustangs have had plenty of motivation to push forward. The gigantic carrot dangling in front of their faces is the season-opening game with crosstown rival Brick. The matchup is one of the Shore’s most passionate rivalries and the Mustangs will be looking to erase last season’s 42-0 thrashing at the hands of the Green Dragons.
“Everyone who plays in A South knows it’s a grind, and when your opener is your biggest rival it adds to an already urgent situation,” Currie said.
“I’ve never beat Brick on varsity, so me and my teammates have been training every day with 42-0 in the back of our mind,” Mike Nobile said.
“It’s still in the back of our heads,” Santiago said. “This year we’re looking to put a beating on them.”
Head Coach: Walt Currie, 9th season.
Career Record: 50-36.
Assistant Coaches: Pete Brennan (def. coord./LB); Mike Cintron (special teams coord./WR/DB); James Bright (WR); Bill Brunner (OL); Russ Clayton (DL); Phil Faccone (LB/special teams); Mike McArthur (OL); Brian Staub (RB/QB); Mike Bonventre, Rob Merola (freshman); Sue Penrod (athletic trainer).
2014 Record: 6-4 (5-2).
BIG SHOES TO FILL: Matt Cuppari, Sr., WR
Cuppari is also the team’s kicker but will now step in as a starting wide receiver, where he will try to help replace the production left by Karl Kumm, who was the team’s top downfield threat last season.
With Santiago and an experienced offensive line returning the Mustangs have the ingredients for a potent offense. If the defense can also play at a high level Brick Memorial will be in contention for championships.
GLUE GUY: Mike Nobile, Sr., OL/DL
A disrupting force along the defensive line and a tenacious blocker at center, Nobile will be an integral part up front on both sides of the ball. He finished with 64.5 tackles last season.
IMPACT NEWCOMER: Tony Thorpe, So., RB/LB
Thorpe has good size for a sophomore at 5-foot-10 and 190 pounds and has a chance to see significant time at fullback.
PIVOTAL GAME: September 12 at Brick
In an intense rivalry, Brick took last season’s game 42-0 and has won each of the past two meetings. The winner gains an instant surge of momentum as each team figures to be among the best in Class A South, and both are in the Central Jersey Group IV playoff bracket.